Photonic structures in biology

Nature. 2003 Aug 14;424(6950):852-5. doi: 10.1038/nature01941.


Millions of years before we began to manipulate the flow of light using synthetic structures, biological systems were using nanometre-scale architectures to produce striking optical effects. An astonishing variety of natural photonic structures exists: a species of Brittlestar uses photonic elements composed of calcite to collect light, Morpho butterflies use multiple layers of cuticle and air to produce their striking blue colour and some insects use arrays of elements, known as nipple arrays, to reduce reflectivity in their compound eyes. Natural photonic structures are providing inspiration for technological applications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Population Groups / anatomy & histology*
  • Animal Population Groups / physiology
  • Animals
  • Birds / anatomy & histology
  • Birds / physiology
  • Color
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Insecta / anatomy & histology
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Insecta / ultrastructure
  • Light*
  • Optics and Photonics*
  • Photons
  • Plants / anatomy & histology*
  • Plants / ultrastructure